Between 30 and 40 per cent of Ontario students in Grades 3 and 6 do not read, write or do math at the provincial standard, according to new test results released Wednesday.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office also found that only 38 per cent of Grade 9 students met or exceeded the provincial standard in applied math, up four per cent from last year.

There were other minor improvements in the standardized test results, with a three per cent increase in the number of Grade 6 students reading at or above the provincial standard to 69 per cent.

Nearly half of the students who were below the provincial standard in Grade 3 reading, writing and math were still below the standard when they reached Grade 6, the testing agency found.

"These results are a flag to parents and educators," agency CEO Marguerite Jackson said in a release.

"They show that many students who did not meet the provincial standard in the earlier grades had difficulty catching up as they progressed through their schooling."

The results also show that more students in grades 3, 6, and 9 are meeting or exceeding the provincial standard in reading, writing and math compared to six years ago, said Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"Just to be perfectly clear, in Ontario -- unlike in other places, including other parts of Canada -- the standard is a three, or a B or a 70 per cent," he said Wednesday.

"It's not 50 per cent, it's 70 per cent. Forty thousand more Ontario students are now achieving that standard in reading, writing and mathematics."

The scores don't mean much when the government is making the tests easier for students, said NDP education critic Rosario Marchese.

Students can now use calculators when they take the tests, which are also shorter and contain simpler questions, he said.

"Even though the system might say the marks have improved, the quality is the same," Marchese said.

"University professors still say that they're not getting a better product once (the students) get into university. We need to change how we mark students and how we grade them."

Almost 400,000 Ontario students in Grades 3, 6 and 9 took the English-language assessments in the 2008-09 school year.